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Stay Out Stay Alive Fatal Accident Summaries
for 2005

Man dies in Dome Valleymine shaft
Published on: August 12, 2005

A 74-year-old California man known only as Les died Friday at the bottom of a 40-foot mine shaft attempting to find the Spanish gold he had long sought near Yuma. "He wanted to fulfill his dream," said his friend Robert McDermitt, 66, of Rosamond, Calif. Friday, McDermitt and Les were working at the makeshift mine shaft Les had created about a mile and a half east of the intersection of County 4th Street and Avenue 18E. Les was at the bottom of the shaft, which is about 6 feet in diameter.

Early in the afternoon, Les filled a bucket with dirt and rocks from the bottom and sent it up. McDermitt emptied it and sent it back down. But then there was no answer. At 3:22 p.m., Rural/Metro Fire Department was dispatched to the scene. Two firefighters were sent down and then a third to try to save Les. But when help got to the man, it was too late.

Authorities said when Rural/Metro is making a technical rescue in a mine shaft they take numerous precautions before sending people below. He said each firefighter who went in was wearing a safety harness and had a self-contained breathing apparatus. Before sending people in, air monitoring kits are used to check air quality and a communication link is checked.

Les had been working on the mine, which sits at the base of one of the Gila Mountains, for two years. There was an open bowl with the mine shaft in the center. There was a backhoe with a winch that was used to take people and buckets in and out of the mine. When Les was at the bottom, he did not have a harness or any type of rescue equipment. He was simply lowered in and stood at the bottom. He would dig by scraping up the earth underneath his feet and putting it in the bucket, according to McDermitt.

At about 5:45 p.m. Friday, all three rescue personnel who had entered the mine shaft were pulled out so Rural/Metro could reassess the situation. Part of the problem in making the recovery was that an air tank lasts only 30 minutes, so it was difficult to complete the recovery in that time.

A second crew of two rescuers went in later and placed the man into a Stokes basket. A Stokes basket is a rigid, body-sized platform for transporting patients, often in precarious situations. Once secured, the man was pulled out of the mine shaft using the winch on the backhoe. "Everything was smooth," Padilla said.

The recovery was complete at about 7:15 p.m. (Source: The Yuma Sun)